Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Lutheran Theosis: A New Book (at last)

There is a new book out (and long overdue) that everyone with an interest in Lutheran theology or ecumenism ought to read: Tuomo Mannermaa, Christ Present in Faith: Luther's View of Justification , ed. and introduced by Kirsi Stjerna (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005). (See how inexpensive it is here.)

Professor Mannermaa (recently retired) was long-time professor at University of Helsinki, where he spearheaded an entire movement (fondly called "The Finnish School") devoted to a careful re-reading and re-evaluation of Luther's own writings. Mannermaa discovered and almost counless of his students and colleagues have since provided more and more evidence that Luther has been misinterpreted around the central issue of the Reformation -- Justification by Faith. Mannermaa discovered in Luther a more Orthodox (as in Eastern Church) meaning to the term "justification" than is usually ascribed to the term. For Luther, per The Finnish School, Christ justifies not just in some forensic way, but "really" -- i.e., by making himself truly present to and in the believer. Christ "enters the believer" and in the process begins a process of incorporating the believer into Christ.

The explication of this argument is a beautiful thing to behold (although very little of the literature is available in English -- it's almost all in German and Scandinavian languages). This short book, Mannermaa's original setting forth of his thesis, finally appears in English. Published over twenty years ago as a part of the Professor's official involvement in the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues in Europe, it represented the groundbreaking for what has become a very fertile -- and very controversial -- line of scholarship.

I was privileged to have coffee with Professor Mannermaa one time, and I can testify that he is a gentle, warm, personable, humble, brilliant bear of a man. He and some of his closest colleagues addressed a seminar at St. Olaf sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology (the first of the Center's conferences I ever attened and the long-term result of which is that I now sit on the Center's Board of Directors). The addresses, together with responses by American theologians, were collected into what remains really the only other collection of essays around the theme, even to this day: Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, ed. by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). (You can see a picture of Professor Mannermaa in that book.)

This is stuff that will not and ought not go away, despite the controversy. It radically changed my own personal perspective on Luther -- but that is something I have trouble communicating to more "traditional" Lutherans because of my inability to read Luther in German. I'm not sure to what extent English translations of Luther betray a worldview about Luther different from what the German might convey. Nevertheless, I hope that the book is widely read and discussed. Professor Mannermaa himself participated in the translation of his book, working with editor Stjerna to get just the right meaning. (In her introduction, Professor Stjerna discusses the translation process and thereby documents what an invaluable resource this book will prove to be as an accurate overview of all the scholarship that grew out of it.)

And I think Kirsi Stjerna, who teaches at my alma mater, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, deserves high praise and effusive thanks for making this book finally available to us.


Maurice Frontz said...

Thanks at least partially to your post, I checked this out of the library at Gettysburg when I was there last week. I'm looking forward to skimming it, at least.
BTW, Braaten and Jenson have edited a book called, at least in part, "The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther." It may have been essays from this conference?

Maurice Frontz said...

Yes - there it is - that book right in your post. That's what comes of skimming.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

I hope many readers will find the book that has been so influential in the lives of many theologians so far. It works both as a scholarly stimulus and aid and as a textbook, in my opinion.

Your description of Dr Mannermaa, btw, is very accurate.

The Braaten-Jenson edition has two articles from Mannermaa and others, based on the papers presented in Minnesota in the 1980s, plus American responses. The book discusses some of the themes presented in the book, but they are very different in nature, and purpose.
Best wishes
Kirsi Stjerna